The Black Notebook by Patrick Modiano | Book Review

“Many years later I tried to find that hotel I hadn’t recorded its name or address in the black notebook, the way we tend not to write down the most intimate details of our lives, for fear that, once fixed on paper, they’ll no longer be ours”.

I read Patrick Modiano‘s books whenever I feel overwhelmed with life as his storytelling has this dream-like quality which helps me to transport myself into a different time and epoch.

Shadowy, atmospheric, sublime multi-layered and mesmerising….

The Black Notebook is a tale of M E L A N C H O L Y, loss, disappearance, identity, the passage of time and remembrance. It deals with the fragility of memories, the relationship with people who ‘visit’ our lives for a short period of time but they influence the rest of our journey.

The main protagonist, Jean wanders the same streets of Paris he used to roam forty years earlier as a young man in the company of a young woman called Dannie. Jean is trying to re-trace her life in Paris to understand who she was. His perception of Dannie differs to the picture of her life that comes to light as he re-visits the places they both used to frequent. There is no easy answer to apparently the most mundane questions which is common in Modiano’s prose.

As Jean visits the places, he cannot recognise the neighbourhoods of his youth – the familiarity has disappeared: buildings have been demolished, the cinemas and theatres have been closed, fancy shops replaced old cafes. There is a profound feeling of emptiness, loss about the places one used to know which are no longer as one remembers them. In a way, The Black Notebook is a meditation about memory and time.

The story deals with the aftermath of WWII and the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962). Almost twenty years on the ghosts of WWII still haunt the lives of inhabitants of Paris. There is a mention of a woman who was murdered due to mistaken identity – her executioners believed she was a collaborator during the war but this was not true. There are also references to the assassination of a left wing Moroccan politician Mehdi Ben Barka.

This is also a tale about the meaning of ‘home’. Jean and Dannie spent their time wandering streets of Paris; they live in shabby rooms, and move frequently – they have no place to call ‘home’. In context of times during which they both lived, Jean and Dannie are two young displaced souls – they exist in ‘a limbo state‘.

In The Black Notebook, Modiano created a sort of the labyrinth with clues and a veil of nostalgia.

If you enjoy sublime, dreamy writing, then I would highly recommend you to read The Black Notebook by Patrick Modiano.


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